Chambliss Warns Congress Might Reject Doha Agreement

Original Publication Date: 
7 December, 2005

Senate Agriculture Chairman Chambliss struck a strong negative note on the Doha round of worldwide trade negotiations Wednesday, saying several proposals would cause Congress to reject a deal if they are included in the final agreement.

Specifically, he said attempts to force the United States to overhaul its cotton programs without any corresponding increase in U.S. access for foreign markets is a non-starter in Congress.

"I will oppose any resolution of the cotton issue without first the conclusion of an underlying agriculture agreement," he said in a statement.

And the European Union's attempt to push its "Everything But Arms" plan to eliminate tariffs on all products from the least developed countries, as identified by the World Bank, also would fall without greater access for U.S. products, he added.

"If that's all that comes out of [the World Trade Organization meeting] in Hong Kong, then we've accomplished nothing," Chambliss told Reuters in an interview.

Chambliss, who has cancelled his plans to attend the WTO meeting next week, said in a statement Wednesday that, "While I appreciate the close working relationship I have with Ambassador Portman and Secretary Johanns, I am not encouraged by the draft text issued last week and the intransigence of the European Union."

"I find it rather shameless for French President Jacque Chirac to lecture the United States on farm subsidies while hiding behind the cloak of African poverty to shield European farmers from true reform, especially when Europe has four times the allowable level of support as the United States," Chambliss said.

Chambliss said to get his approval, any agreement must substantially improve real market access, better harmonize trade-distorting domestic support, eliminate export subsidies and provide greater certainty and predictability regarding potential litigation.

The latter is a veiled reference to reauthorization of the "peace clause" in the Uruguay Round agreement that made it difficult for other countries to sue the United States and other countries over the impact of farm subsidies.

Other critics of the WTO also are criticizing the "Everything But Arms" plan, which Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, said is being pushed hard on the United States by the European Union, even though the least developed countries that it is intended to help do not have the capacity to produce many goods for the U.S. market.

U.S. negotiators are trying to get the European Union to accept a voluntary agreement with exemptions for some products.

She also warned that the agreement contains a provision calling for freer movement of temporary workers, an issue that many members of Congress argue interferes with their prerogative in writing immigration law.

Meanwhile, Institute for International Economics Director Fred Bergsten said Congress might need to renew presidential trade negotiating authority before a "meaningful" agreement in the Doha round of worldwide trade negotiations can be completed.

Trade negotiating authority that permits President Bush to submit trade agreements to Congress on an expedited basis expires in July 2007, but the Doha negotiations may not be completed by then.

If Congress remains in Republican hands and "the administration could demonstrate significant progress" in the Doha negotiations, Congress would agree to an extension, he said.

But he also noted it took the strong hand of former House Majority Leader DeLay to get trade negotiating authority and the Central America Free Trade Agreement through Congress when they were proposed.

DeLay is not in that position at the moment because he is battling felony accusations of money laundering related to Texas House races. Once indicted, he was forced to temporarily step aside as majority leader.

"The demise of DeLay may be the worst blow to trade policy," Bergsten said, adding he was not commenting on DeLay's ethics or political situation.